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South Africa Already Celebrating As World Cup Kickoff Nears

A South Africa team supporter smiles during a fans' party in Cape Town on June 10.

A South Africa team supporter smiles during a fans' party in Cape Town on June 10.

Football fever is running high in South Africa as the 2010 FIFA World Cup gets under way June 11 with the opening match between South Africa and Mexico.

It is the first World Cup to take place in Africa. FIFA President Sepp Blatter says the event has fostered hope in Africa and will bring joy to the entire world.

"I spoke about hope, but what will this World Cup give then to the world? Emotions! Emotions to billions and billions of people. They will have emotions through football and through football played in Africa," Blatter says. "This is also part of a legacy and the knowledge of the people that Africa is there, and Africa can be proud, and Africa can stand as an organizer of the biggest event of the world."

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has welcomed the World Cup as a milestone in the country's history.

"We've come a long way in football development since the first football match was reportedly played on the 23rd of August 1862, at the site of what is now the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town," he said.

Favorites Brazil And Spain

Hailed as the world's most-watched sporting event, a total of 32 national teams have earned a spot in the month-long tournament by advancing from a qualifying stage that started with 204 teams in the autumn of 2008.

Out of the 32 teams competing in South Africa, Brazil and Spain are considered to be the favorites. Others named as possible World Cup champions include Argentina, Germany, the Netherlands, France, England, and 2006 defending champions Italy.

But with key players from many teams reportedly suffering from injuries -- and with the ever-present possibility of magical Cinderella stories -- sports commentators say anything could happen during the weeks ahead.

The June 11 opener marks the start of what is known as the Group Stage. That's because the 32 teams are divided into eight groups -- each with four teams.

In the Group Stage, each team plays all of the other teams in their group. A team earns three points for winning a game, one point for a draw and zero points for a loss. At the end of the Group Stage, it is the top two teams from each group -- a total of 16 teams -- that advance to elimination matches.

Once they reach the top 16 teams, the points earned during the Group Stage no longer matter. Simply, if a team loses a game once in the round of 16 it is eliminated. The only exception will occur the night before the final, when the two losing semifinalists will play to determine third and fourth place. Then, on July 11, the two finalists meet on the pitch of Johannesburg's new Soccer City stadium, to determine the World Cup champion.

Already Celebrating

Ahead of the kickoff, South Africans have been celebrating as if their national team had already won the trophy. Wrapped in flags and tooting vuvuzela horns, tens of thousands have gone out into the streets of Johannesburg to join parades and celebrations.

Thousands also have poured into the streets of Cape Town and other South African cities to show their excitement. Schoolchildren across the country were dismissed on June 9 for a special monthlong World Cup holiday.

Meanwhile, thousands of football fans from around the world have been arriving in South Africa -- turning Johannesburg's international airport into a mini fan zone with people donning their national colors and waving flags from their own countries.

A capacity crowd of more than 90,000 people was expected at the opening ceremony and the kickoff match at Soccer City. South Africa's legendary trumpeter Hugh Masekela and the Soweto Spiritual Singers were to perform along with American rhythm-and-blues star R. Kelly.

The family of South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, has confirmed that the 91-year-old icon of the country's antiapartheid struggle would attend the opening match.

No details have emerged about how or when Mandela would arrive. But news of a chance to catch a glimpse of Mandela in person at the opening game has further heightened the sense of excitement and anticipation among those celebrating on the streets of Johannesburg.

compiled from agency reports